Lifelong Dewey

Reading through every Dewey Decimal section.

Tag: history

669: The Arsenic Century by James Whorton

DDC_669

669.75094109034: Whorton, James C. The Arsenic Century: How Victorian Britain was Poisoned at Home, Work, and Play. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2010. 359 pp. ISBN 978-0-19-957470-4.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 600: Technology
  • 660: Chemical engineering and related technologies
  • 669: Metallurgy
  • 669.7: Other nonferrous metals
  • 669.75: Antimony, arsenic, and bismuth
  • +0941: Great Britain and United Kingdom
  • +09034: 19th Century

It’s an absolute wonder that as many people survived 19th century England did. There was arsenic in everything—in the food, in the paint, on the wallpaper, in wine barrels, in beer, in medicine, in wrapping papers, in clothing, in makeup, in everything. Once arsenic trioxide (a byproduct from purifying gold or copper minerals) was found to be highly marketable to dye and chemical manufacturers, the race was on to cut it into everything imaginable to lower costs and increase profits. James Whorton’s The Arsenic Century looks at the toll arsenic took on 19th century England, and how that shaped current legislation and health science.

Arsenic poisoning was nearly a health epidemic in Victorian England, and because many of the symptoms mirrored those of cholera, it was hard at first to prove death by arsenic. This was a boon for would-be poisoners. Then, began the arms race for chemical tests. Starting with the Marsh test touted by famous chemist Mathieu Orfila and evolving into more and more precise reactions, many British chemists were employed in the pursuit of making sure that arsenic did not slip into too many products, but that did not stop cutthroat merchants and manufacturers. In many cases of arsenic poisoning, each side would blame the other of tampering so no one could be proved at fault. Meanwhile, hundreds of consumers lay at home with gut-wrenching pains, slowly dying by the hand of shady dealers.

The book, while not a rip-roaring read, is a very interesting one. I was generally aware of nefarious manufacturers trying to reduce their costs by using inferior products, but the prevalence of arsenical compounds throughout Victorian England was just mind-boggling. Moreover, the tedious pace by which the government acted to prohibit arsenic use was just laughable. Anybody interested in both history and chemistry should have a good time with this one.

 

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739: Faberge’s Eggs by Tony Faber

DDC_739

739.2092: Faber, Tony. Faberge’s Eggs: The Extraordinary Story of the Masterpieces That Outlived an Empire. New York: Random House, 2008. 241 pp. ISBN 978-1-58836-707-5.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 700: Fine Arts and Recreation
  • 730: Plastic arts and sculpture
  • 739: Art metalwork
  • 739.2: Works in precious metals
  • 739.2092: Biography and special persons

Eggs are very plain things. But when Russian jeweler Carl Gustavovitch Faberge realized a design around them, they turned into the most sought-after pieces in modern art history. Tony Faber’s Faberge’s Eggs is not only a look into the history of the bejeweled eggs, but also a history of Russia proper. From Czar Nicholas II’s coronation in 1894 to his abdication in 1917, the eggs chronicle the czar’s relationships with his mother, his wife, his children, and his country.

Faberge’s workshop, over the course of its lifetime in Moscow, produced 69 beautifully jeweled eggs, but only 50 are considered imperial eggs. These are the pieces ordered by the czar to be given at first from Czar Alexander II to his wife Maria Fedorovna each Easter. Upon Alexander’s death, Nicholas continued the tradition, first giving them just to his mother and then to both his mother and his wife. Each egg presented had special meaning and a special name, starting with the Jeweled Hen Egg (1885) and ending with the sadly unfinished and unpresented Constellation Egg (1917). Faber not only follows the creation and presentation of each egg, but also the saga of their respective ownerships to the present day.

There are times when Faber’s writing gets bogged down with names, places, dates, and politics, but they are few and far between. Luckily, several helpful appendices are added on, including an extended royal family tree, a condensed chronology of the eggs, and a basic Russian term glossary. A few lovely color pictures in the middle of the book highlight the beauty of the eggs, and overall, this was a very pleasant read.

750: The Louvre

DDC_750

750: Laclotte, Michel and Jean-Pierre Cuzin. The Louvre: Paintings. Paris, France: Editions Scala, 2000. 284 pp. ISBN 2-86656-236-4.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 700: Fine Arts and Recreation
  • 750: Painting and paintings

On August 10, 1793, a wondrous building was made open to the public. Exactly one year before, Louis XVI was imprisoned and the monarchy felled. The National Assembly urged that the works of art hoarded by Louis and previous kings be collected and displayed so that they could preserve the national memory. At it’s opening, The Louvre showcased 537 paintings and 184 other objects of art. From there started an interesting and sometimes sordid history. Michel Laclotte and Jean-Pierre Cuzin’s The Louvre gives a history of each of the museum’s major collection, but more importantly, displays a wide variety of the museum’s pieces in glorious color plates.

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383: Orphans Preferred by Christopher Corbett

DDC_383

383.1430973: Corbett, Christopher. Orphans Preferred: The Twisted Truth and Lasting Legend of the Pony Express. New York: Broadway Books, 2003. 255 pp. ISBN 0-7679-0692-6.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 300: Social Sciences
  • 380: Commerce, communications, and transportation
  • 383: Postal communication
  • 383.1 Mail handling
  • 383.14: Transportation systems, collection, and delivery
  • 383.143: Overland mail
  • +0973: United States

We know this much is true: In 1860, the business trio of Russell, Majors, & Waddell set about to revolutionize overland mail delivery in the United States. Backed by a congressional blessing (but not by congressional money), they sought to deliver mail to the citizens of California faster than ever before. Normally, mail took anywhere from one to six months to go from the East Coast to the West Coast, but the Central Overland California and Pikes Peak Express Company strove to cut that down to ten days. From the moment the first rider struck from St. Joseph, Missouri, the Pony Express became steep in folklore and American myth. Christopher Corbett’s Orphans Preferred tries to wrangle truth from the mouth of history to get to the most accurate picture of the Express he can.

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982: A History of Argentina in the Twentieth Century by Luis Alberto Romero

DDC_982

982.06: Romero, Luis Alberto. A History of Argentina in the Twentieth Century. Translated by James P. Brennan. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2002. 349 pp. ISBN 0-271-02192-6.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 900: History and Geography
  • 980: History of South America
  • 982: History of Argentina
  • 982.06: Period of later republic, 1861 to present

In his History of Argentina in the Twentieth Century, Luis Romero tries to write a different kind of history. He has “attempted to reconstruct the history—complex, contradictory, and unique—of a society that unquestionably has experienced better moment and that finds itself currently at one of the lowest points in its history but whose future is not, I trust, definitively sealed.” This is remarkable for two reasons. First, he is not out to champion is country, and second, he owns up to the fact that history is sometimes contradictory and unfun.

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679: The Good Cigar by Jeffers and Gordon

DDC_679

679.72: Jeffers, H. Paul & Kevin Gordon. The Good Cigar: A Celebration of the Art of Cigar Smoking. New York: Broadway, 1997. 193 pp. ISBN 0-7679-0036-7.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 600: Technology
  • 670: Manufacturing
  • 679: Other products of specific kinds of materials
  • 679.7: Products of tobacco
  • 679.72: Cigars

The cigar is almost as old as Columbus’s landing in the Americas. Indigenous peoples would smoke the dried leaves of the tobacco plant in clay pipes and every European explorer to reach the Americas brought some back with them. Modern cigars have been around since the early 19th century and come in many different varieties, shapes, and qualities. H. Paul Jeffers’s and Kevin Gordon’s The Good Cigar is an ode to the cigar aficionado that explores the history, manufacture, and personalities surrounding the classic cigar.

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130: Occult America by Mitch Horowitz

DDC_130

130: Horowitz, Mitch. Occult America: White House Seances, Ouija Circles, Masons, and the Secret Mystic History of Our Nation. New York: Bantam, 2010. 258 pp. ISBN 978-0-553-38515-1.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 100: Philosophy and Psychology
  • 130: Parapsychology and occultism

In 1774, Mother Ann Lee emigrated from England to New York and started a small but important movement in America: the Shakers. Their belief in a more mystical Christian God led to accusations of heresy from mainline believers. From this small band of radical believers sprang pockets on mysticism throughout America over the last 250 years. Mitch Horowitz’s Occult America takes a slightly off-center look at American history through the lens of those who believed, prayed, practiced, and lived a little differently from the rest of us.

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